David Hallberg and Gillian Murphy in Swan Lake. Photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy ABT

ABT's Met Season To Be Shortened By Three Weeks

Tucked into a recent article in The New York Times about an upcoming schedule-change at the Metropolitan Opera, was a small bombshell: To accommodate the opera's plans, American Ballet Theatre, with whom it shares the house, will "reduce its Met season to five weeks from the current eight" starting in 2021. The news was dropped casually, practically as an aside.

Maybe it shouldn't come as such a surprise. No regular ABT attendee can have failed to notice that, in recent seasons, there have been performances that were significantly under-sold. This happened even in the case of enduringly popular works like Giselle. Only Misty Copeland or the occasional visitor—Natalia Osipova, say—can fill that cavernous, almost 4,000-seat monolith.

(To be fair, the opera has the same problem; in May of 2017 it was reported to have attained only 67% of potential box office receipts.)


So, one can't help but wonder if this shortening of ABT's spring season isn't partly tactical. Reached for comment, a company representative would say only this:

"Although we would love to dance on the Met stage for eight weeks or more each year, we look forward to programming and presenting five weeks of extraordinary ballet to appreciative and enthusiastic audiences at the Met. While it is premature to announce specifics, we have exciting plans underway for ABT's future performances in New York, across the country and around the world."

The representative would not be drawn out on the nature of those "exciting plans," so we'll just have to wait and see what materializes. But reason would seem to indicate that, for a company that works 36 weeks each year, the loss of three weeks of employment at the Met is not, on the face of it, a good thing.

Isabella Boylston in Alexei Ratmansky's Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy ABT

The news comes only a year after the shuttering of the Lincoln Center Festival, which reduced the summer programming at this cultural hub from seven weeks to five in 2018. Dance—particularly in the form of large, ambitious productions—lost one of its most exciting showcases, a loss only partly made up by other festivals, like Mostly Mozart and White Light. It's notable that the Times article about the Met re-shuffling mentioned the cut to ABT's season only in passing, as an event of minor importance. Ballet, and dance in general, has often fought to be taken as seriously as the other performing arts; attitudes don't seem to have changed much.

Perhaps, though, ABT has other, better plans up its sleeve. It's true that the Met spring season format—week-long runs of one evening-length story ballet after another—is ripe for an upgrade. Does the ballet audience need to see Natalia Makarova's La Bayadère, and Kevin McKenzie's Swan Lake year after year? Maybe the low attendance is caused by attrition, or boredom. Even the new works created for the Met, like Alexei Ratmansky's reconstruction of Marius Petipa's Harlequinade, would look better on a smaller stage.

A partnership with a different theater in New York might open the way for more varied, less stolid fare. The Koch and City Center are occupied in June and early July, but how about the Brooklyn Academy of Music, for example? "They could start the season there, following Dance Africa, with more adventurous choreography, then move on to the Met for the swans and pirates," suggested a colleague in the New York performing arts community. Not a bad idea.

Latest Posts


Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021